You’re a new comic, you’ve done your first 100 gigs driving from one end of the country to the other just to get 10 minutes on a tiny wooden plinth covered with a threadbare carpet sample. You know you can do so much more but you feel restricted by your tightly practised 10 minute set and the outfit you so painstakingly chose for your first paid gig and has now become an uncomfortable superstition.
(Which is tough when you got your outfit off your mum in the 80s)
So how do you break the 10 minute barrier and carry on to do a 15 or even 20 minute set. The elusive 20 minute set is the gateway to better paid work and bigger, more illustrious, established shows. For a lot of newer comics 20 minutes seems like an insurmountable goal but I’ve put together a few guidelines to help comics jump this particular hurdle without breaking anything.
(Otherwise it’s off to the glue factory for you, that or just an office job. Personally I’d rather be rendered down and used to fix a vase)
I’m a storyteller comic so most of my advice comes from that experience, some of it may not be relevant for you one liners out there but really the advice I give to one liner comics for extending their sets is WRITE MORE ONE LINERS.
1. Don’t pad your set with waffle- A lot of comics make the mistake of thinking they can take their existing 10 and just add in audience participation or banter, massive mistake. You wouldn’t plan a journey then only fill your car up with half the fuel you need (be it Petrol, Diesel, LPG, Electricity or magic fairy wishes) so why do the same thing with your set?
2. Write jokes that relate to your existing 10 – You’ve got a lovely tight ten that you’ve written yourself, performed 100 times and polished the rough bits off so why would you then try and change the flow of your set in a different direction? Every good comedian takes their audience on a journey, journeys require a clear path from one destination to another so you need to make sure your audience is seeing how one bit is connecting to another. Feel free to jump around but if you can maintain a theme you’ll find it a lot easier to build energy.
3. CALLBACKS! – These are jokes that relate back to an earlier part of your set, using the same punchline twice for example. They are the best way to connect your material and displays a level of comedic professionalism. Callbacks show the audience that your set is well thought out and planned, it also comes across as an injoke between you and them which adds a level of humour and comfort.
(Like an adult nappy)
4. Slow down – this is a big thing and for a lot of comics it’s the difference between being a professional and being an open spot. Obviously there are some comics who use speed as a comedic tool and that’s great but I have found that just taking a breath at the end of each piece and letting the audience find the laugh makes it flow better. Think about your material and pace it correctly, people tend to speed up when they’re nervous or full of adrenaline so just take a breath and relax into it.
5. Think of your performance – whether you’re a stand still behind the mic kind of comic or a lunging tshirt wearer your body language is as important to the show as the jokes themselves. In a 10 you might be able to get by without any movement whatsoever but in a 20 you want to engage all of the audience’s senses. Use the space you’re given (be it a massive theatre stage or a tiny foot square at the front of the pub) and explore it with your material. Again if it’s part of your style not to move then go with what works.
6. Mic use – You should have learned this in the time you’ve been performing your 10 but I have seen so many comics who are doing 20s that don’t know how to use a mic properly. Get it out of your mouth and keep it a consistent distance away from you unless you’re doing something specific. Also be aware that if you have it too close to you you’ll make popping noises everytime you pronounce a “P”.
(plus hiphop has no place in your routine about your ugly sister)
7. Location specific references – In your 10 you’ve got to keep it very tight but in your 20 you’ve got a chance to explore some improvisation and some quick topical jokes, don’t do too much though. Do some research before the gig and if you find something you can make funny about the venue, town or audience then go for it. Not for the faint hearted.
8. Interact with the audience – I did say earlier not to pad out your set but in your 20 you’ll have a chance to explore some audience participation much more than you would in your 10. Don’t go crazy but it’s good to involve the audience, bring them into your jokes. One of the unique experiences of a live comedy night is the chance to see things no one will ever have seen before or ever see again. It’s a good chance to improve your improvisational skills.
9. Practice – As you’re only just getting into the 20s you’ll still mostly be getting 10 slots, break your slot in half if you can and practice at the slots you can get. A lot of comics think you can’t practice a 20 unless you actually have a 20 min slot, truth is you need the 20 mins before you can get the slot itself. Break down the jokes in your set and practice them as much as you can. Obviously callbacks won’t work like this but they’re not usually the linchpin of the set.
(that’s what the cock jokes are for)
10. Apply for 20s – You’ll know when you’re ready to take the 20 you’ve been practising onto the road. Once you’re comfortable with it start applying for gigs you wouldn’t normally go for. Get a good video of you doing your best stuff and send it out to promoters who can offer you the spots you want. Big clubs aren’t what you’re looking for right now you want to focus on smaller gigs outside of the bigger cities where you can do a longer set but will still get a great reaction. It’s unlikely you’ll get paid for these however you should be asking for travel expenses as, even though your 20 isn’t yet perfect, you’re still a level up from standard open spots trying new material.
(You SHOULD be excited!)
Well that’s it those are my tips to take your 10 minute set up a level to a 20 minute set. I hope you find it helpful and it’d be great if you could share it with as many people as possible. Thanks again for all your feedback because without you I wouldn’t write these! Now go out there and do amazing things!